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#frequently asked questions about the ukulele

At Flea Market Music, we do our best to keep site visitors and store customers informed about all things ukulele.  To that end, we have worked hard to compile a listing of some of the most frequently asked general questions posed to us over the years, along with our answers to them.  

Many thanks to Dan "Soybean" Sawyer (and Dale Webb of The Magic Fluke Company) for providing us with many of the answers found herein.  If you have a question regarding vintage ukuleles, be sure to consult our Uke Yak section, where you can submit a question to our resident expert, Chuck "Frets" Fayne.

Background of the Ukulele View All FAQ Categories
Question:   Where did the ukulele come from?
Answer:   The name ukulele came from Hawaii. The instrument itself was adapted and developed in Hawaii from earlier instruments that were brought over in 1879 from the Portuguese island of Madeira. There are similar instruments to the ukulele in many cultures around the world.
Question:   When was the uke popular?
Answer:   From the late 1920’s to mid 1930’s, the ukulele reached it’s zenith as the height of fashion. In that era, the little uke seemed to be ubiquitous and was seen in the hands of everyone from college students to movie stars. This wave of popularity lasted into the mid 1930’s.

The second wave of popularity started in the late 1940’s after WW2 ended, and lasted into the 1950’s. Some soldiers were even supplied with ukes by the military during the war and wanted to continue playing as civilians. The celebrity Arthur Godfrey, was often seen on television and movie screens playing his uke.

Many folks feel we’re now in the third wave of enthusiasm for the uke. This recent trend seems to have started in the early 1990’s and shows no signs of slowing down. People continue to be drawn to the ukulele for it’s charm, portability and ease of learning. This new wave could also be a reaction to the dominance of the guitar in our culture over the last 40 years. Some encouraging signs are: the many uke clubs and festivals which have sprung up, many new song and method books for learning, the availablility of finely built instruments which equal or surpass the classic vintage ones, and the proliferation of various ukulele oriented web sites.

Question:   What is a felt pick?
Answer:   A soft plectrum for plucking the strings. Felt picks were developed in the 1920’s when manufacturers were looking to increase sales. It was probably thought that the syncopated strums as played by the Hawaiians might scare off potential beginners. Felt picks were also advertised to women who didn’t want to rough their fingers and nails by strumming the gut strings. Promoted by some as the “American Way” to play, it was supposed to make playing the uke easier. Felt picks actually have a very pleasant and unique sound and are still used today by professionals and beginners alike.
Question:   What are gut strings?
Answer:   The string of choice on ukes in the days before nylon strings were available. These are strings made from sheep intestines and are sometimes also refered to as “cat” gut. Due to their organic nature, the diameter is not consistant and can cause intonation problems.
Question:   I have an Arthur Godfrey Uke Player.
Answer:   These were gimmicks devised to sell ukes. The idea was, you could push a button and the device would make a chord for you. They were impractical and are no longer used.
Question:   What about ukulele banjos?
Answer:   These are played and tuned exactly the same as regular wooden ukes. As the ukulele fad of the 1920’s wore on, players were looking for a louder instrument for public performances. The banjo uke answered this need perfectly. Ukulele banjos were a huge success in the 1930’s. In fact, their production totals may equal regular ukes of the same era. Unfortunately, the majority of ukulele banjos were crudely built and not designed well. The best ones were built by the major banjo manufacturers and made for serious musicians.
Question:   What about resonator ukes?
Answer:   These are ukes made with a metal “resonating” cone inside them. Some are made of wood and some have metal bodies, but all were designed to increase the volume of sound. Reso ukes never really caught on during the ‘20s and 30’s but seem to have become more popular lately.

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Flea Market Music offers an on-line community for ukulele players, informative books on the ukulele, ukulele CDs,songbooks, videos and information on our instrument manufacturing of the FLUKE ukulele. Brought to you by "Jumpin" Jim Beloff. -